Sick pay confusion could drive ill, self-isolating or shielding nurses back to work

RCN calls for clarification on COVID-19 furlough scheme eligibility for independent sector nurses

Vulnerable nurses in the independent sector may return to work due to money
worries caused by confusion over furlough entitlement, the RCN says Picture: iStock

Inadequate pay could force nurses who are vulnerable to COVID-19 to return to work, the RCN has warned.

The college’s general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak urging the Treasury to confirm that nursing and residential care homes, social care providers and other independent employers of nurses are eligible for furlough support to compensate staff who cannot work due to underlying health conditions.

Treasury urged to clarify furlough versus statutory sick pay entitlement

Dame Donna Kinnair: seeks clarifications
about furlough pay for vulnerable nurses

In the letter, the college quotes guidance the treasury sent to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in April stating that where ‘statutory sick pay (SSP) is payable or liable to be payable in respect of an employee then the employer is not eligible to claim against the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) until after the entitlement to SSP ends’.

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Staff on statutory sick pay would earn about £95 per week, whereas those on furlough receive the equivalent of 80% of their salary.

An experienced staff nurse working in an independent sector home would usually earn £600–£640 per week, according to the RCN, so would expect to receive at least £480 per week under the furlough scheme.

Nurses who are sick, self-isolating or shielding may feel pressure to return to work

The RCN fears this stark difference could drive vulnerable staff facing statutory sick pay income for up to 12 weeks – and possible financial difficulties as a result – to ignore medical advice and return to work.

RCN executive team leader for the independent sector Theresa Fyffe said: ‘The chancellor must clarify that the furlough scheme extends to care home workers who are shielding.

‘When the guidance isn’t clear, it is hard-working nursing staff who suffer. We expect all health and care employers to provide full pay for staff who have to be off work due to COVID-19 sickness, self-isolation or shielding.’

Treasury says it will resolve ‘misunderstanding’

Responding to the RCN’s letter, a Treasury spokesperson said: ‘Care homes, social care providers and other independent employers that are not publicly funded are of course able to furlough nursing staff required to shield under the CJRS and this has always been the case.

‘We are working with the RCN to clarify this and resolve this misunderstanding.’

The treasury added that the guidance was clear that ‘an employer may claim both CJRS and the SSP rebate scheme in respect of the same employee but not for the same period.’

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